Are People Watching Hollywood’s Early Releases?
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Hollywood Dives Deep Into Day & Date” that discussed the different strategies major studios were taking in light of commercial theaters around the world closing in response to the virus pandemic.
As a quick recap, we’ve seen studios taking one of five actions with films either released or just about to be released.
1) Release them on a Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) rental model.
2) Release them for sale digitally.
3) Release them directly to streaming sites like Netflix.
4) Push the theatrical release date to a new date.
5) Postpone the theatrical release date indefinitely.
Universal Studios decided on a PVOD model for Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, which you can rent for $19.99, with a 48-hour viewing window. Universal is also going to make the Trolls sequel available for PVOD rental on what would
have been the day of its theatrical release, April 10.
Disney accelerated the release dates for two major films, bringing Frozen II to its Disney+ streaming service months ahead of schedule, and upping the digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by several days.
Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Lionsgate followed by making movies released theatrically between March 7-13 available for digital purchase. Disney then released the latest Pixar film, Onward, for digital purchase just two weeks after its theatrical release, followed by its availability for streaming on Disney+ just two weeks later.
Paramount Pictures decided to send its upcoming comedy, The Lovebirds, originally scheduled for theatrical release on April 3, directly to Netflix for streaming (no date currently available).
With all of these changes, it had us at Cineluxe wondering if this was having an impact on the viewing habits of viewers. Were people renting or buying these movies? If so, which ones? And, if not, why?
We put together a brief seven-question survey that received a total of 117 responses—certainly not a big enough response to be definitive, but enough to get a snapshot of what movie lovers are doing in these atypical times. (If you took the time to take the survey, thank you!)
I posted the survey in a variety of Facebook groups, including Home Theater Enthusiasts, Kaleidescape Users Group, Dolby Atmos Home Users, and UHD 4K Blu-ray Collectors, as well as at the Kaleidescape Owner’s Forum, with the goal of targeting people in the habit of regularly watching movies at home.
Here are the results along with a bit of commentary.
click on the images to enlarge them
Question 1 dealt with PVOD rentals, with 2/3 of respondents saying either they had rented or planned to rent a title.
Question 2 followed up asking why people had not rented a title. The lack of quality was the biggest reason, indicated by 34% of respondents, as none of these PVOD titles were made available in 4K HDR video or with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. In second place with 25% was the lack of interest in the titles, with 20% saying the $19.99 price was too high.
Question 2 also offered a separate Other/Comment box that received quite a few answers. Ten people said they only buy movies, not rent; four said there were plenty of other movies to watch; two said it was the lack of quality of rental titles; one said the films weren’t available in a foreign language; and one said they only rented because they had a coupon.
Question 3 asked about purchasing early-release titles, and offered the ability to check multiple answers, which is why the results total more than 100%. Respondents could answer “Yes, but I would have bought it anyway” (36.36%), “Yes, I bought because of special pricing” (16.16%), “Yes, I bought because it was available early” (32.32%), or “No, haven’t purchased any of them” (40.40%).
The interesting thing is that the lower price of these titles had very little impact on the purchase decision, whereas the early availability motivated nearly one-third of purchases. If studios are looking to spur purchases in the future, shortening the theatrical window could be an option.
Question 4 asked where people went to purchase these titles. The overwhelming weight of Kaleidescape purchases (33.33%) is telling for a few reasons. One, with the survey posted at the Kaleidescape Users Group on Facebook and at the Kaleidescape Owners’ Forum, it’s clear this is a passionate group actively interested in discussions about movies. Two, it’s logical that people investing in a high-end movie server like a Kaleidescape Strato would be interested in getting the latest releases. Three, it suggests Kaleidescape owners are among the highest percentage of movie buyers.
Apple held the next highest share at 21.51%, followed by Amazon (16.13%) and Vudu (12.90%). It’s also comforting to see that “Torrent Site” (a common means of getting nefarious, pirated content at no charge) received zero votes. In addition to the options listed, DirecTV, YouTube, and Xfinity all received one write-in.
Question 5 asked if people were watching more movies recently, not streaming series or TV programming. Hollywood should take comfort in the fact that 64% responded they were watching either far more, or more than normal, showing that many still view movies as a primary source of entertainment.
Question 6 asked which of the early-release titles people had watched at home, with a list of eight of the most popular current movies and allowing for multiple responses. Not surprisingly, the Top Three films are all ones available for purchase instead of rental, with the most-watched film being Pixar’s Onward at 37%. Onward had only been in theaters for two weeks, and was the Number One film in the country when theaters closed. In second place at 29% is Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, which benefitted from a full theatrical run but was released to home for purchase several weeks earlier than usual. And rounding out the Top Three is Sony’s Bloodshot at 23%, the latest Vin Diesel sci-fi/action title, which had been in theaters for
roughly the same amount of time as Onward.
Call of the Wild, Downhill, Dr. Doolittle, I Still Believe, and Bacurau all received single write-ins. (While Trolls World Tour received 3% of the votes, it actually won’t be available for PVOD rental until April 10.)
Question 7 offered the same title choices, but this time asked if people did or would have seen any of these movies in the theater. With this question, I was trying to get a sense of how much theatrical revenue was lost due to films being released at home instead of the commercial theater.
Again, Onward and Birds of Prey were one and two, but this time with order reversed. The Way Back, the new Ben Affleck sports drama, actually benefitted from the home release, with only 1% saying they would have seen it in the theater, compared to 14% who purchased the title. Another title that benefitted was the controversial The Hunt, which had just over 8% saying they would see it
in the theater compared to 11% renting it at home. Perhaps most telling is that more than 57% of respondents said they would not have seen any of these films commercially.
The final question asked if people missed going to commercial theaters. We often hear about the death of the commercial cinema experience due to a variety of factors, however this is split almost down the middle, with 48% saying they do miss commercial theaters, 30% saying they don’t really miss the theater and that viewing at home is much better, and 22% saying they rarely went to commercial theaters before.
Now that we are forced to spend so much time in isolation, will the communal experience be something we long to return to, or will it become something we look back at if this happens to change the movie-distribution model forever . . ? Only time will tell.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.